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SPRING HILL, Tenn. (BP)--You may not have known it but May is Military Appreciation Month, a time each year when our country recognizes the incredible contributions and sacrifices our Armed Forces and their families make through their loyal and honorable service.
It makes sense. May is filled with special days that recognize our military -- Military Spouse Appreciation Day is always the Friday before Mother's Day; Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday of May, ending Armed Forces Week; and the last Monday of May is Memorial Day, an opportunity to reflect and to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in defense of the country they have served.
But I'm sad to think that for as many Americans who take time to reflect and pray for our troops and their families, that there are many more who seem to have forgotten. Instead, these folks see days like Memorial Day as a good time for a three-day weekend, barbecues and the kick off to summer.
THE SACRIFICES WE DON'T SEE
I was reminded recently of the sacrifices our military families make that aren't always seen or thought about. My son Caleb's second-grade class did a little presentation for their last day of school and I usually make a point to look for Annie, one of his little friends. Annie's daddy, an Army reservist, was in Iraq this year and Caleb frequently came home to give me reports about Annie's daddy. Since Caleb's own dad was in Iraq in 2007, he took a special interest in how his little friend was doing.
"Annie's daddy came home for a visit!" Caleb enthusiastically announced just before Christmas, an 8-year-old's understanding of a two-week R&R.
"Annie's daddy is HOME!" was his excited cry around Valentine's Day.
Sometime in April, I realized I hadn't gotten any other Annie reports, so I asked Caleb how she was doing.
"Annie's parents aren't going to be married anymore. They're getting a divorce."
When I saw Annie the other morning, I didn't see either parent with her and my heart hurt with the knowledge that this beautiful little girl represented just one of the many military families who have sacrificed and suffered as a result of their service.
Long separations are tough. The stress and strain military couples and families deal with is enormous, and many of our military are now on their third and fourth deployments. But marriages ending and families being divided does not have to be the outcome.
I often get e-mails from military wives through the group I started, Wives of Faith, and last year in one week I received two, just a day apart. Both wives were young, both with young children and each had been told by their soldier husbands that they wanted a divorce. My leadership team and I started praying for each of these precious women by name and for their husbands. I kept in touch with each wife, encouraging her to not give up, to pray for her husband, to strengthen her own relationship with God. After several months of prayer, both women's husbands returned to the marriage and both couples have gone on to stronger marriages than they once had. God helped heal what was broken and made new what had grown old.
YOU CAN HELP
Churches can make an enormous difference in the lives of military families but it starts with individuals being willing to serve as encouragers; to look out for someone else; to invest some time and love and perhaps even sacrifices of their own. Look for the military families in your church and community.
Even if you don't live near an active military installation, never assume there are no military around. National Guard and Reserve families are prevalent throughout our country, in small communities as well as large, and often they have less or no support compared to active military families.
Take a census and find out who the military families are in your church. Let them know in tangible ways how much you care and appreciate their service. If a family is going through a deployment, get volunteers who will bring meals by periodically, mow the grass once a week and help send care packages to the deployed service member. Offering practical and physical help does enormous good toward encouraging emotional and spiritual health.
Never assume someone else is taking care of it. Serve those who serve and see God's blessings unfold.
Sara Horn is the wife of a Navy reservist and founder of Wives of Faith (www.wivesoffaith.org), a faith-based military wives support organization. Her new book, "GOD Strong: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Military Wives" is scheduled for release by Zondervan in February. She can be contacted via email@example.com.